Elect the insurance commissioner?
Wed March 4, 2009 8:48 am

Everybody who follows politics knows about the doctrine of unforeseen consequences. That is not the problem with the proposal to elect the insurance commissioner. The problem is foreseeable consequences. Texas elects the members of the Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry. Who contributes money to Railroad Commission races? The oil and gas industry. Texas elects members of the Supreme Court. Who contributes money to Supreme Court races? Lawyers and law firms–especially those with litigation before the Court. Who is going to contribute money to the candidates for insurance commissioner? Insurance companies. This is as certain as the sun rising in the east. I think that the public has a better chance of getting a good insurance commissioner through a gubernatorial appointment–even from Rick Perry–and strong legislative oversight than through the electoral process.

As a native of the Gulf Coast, I’m skeptical that an elected commissioner would serve the interests of residents in hurricane-prone areas. We’ve seen what happens in the windstorm insurance legislation over the years. Harris County had the political clout to get itself removed from the windstorm pool, even though the damage from storms is invariably greater in extent and dollar amount in Harris County than the damage in the first tier of counties. Lawmakers from the rest of the state see to it that their constituents do not share in the burden of contributing to the pool either. Why would an elected insurance commissioner behave any differently? He is going to protect the voters in Houston and Dallas and San Antonio and Amarillo, because there are more of them than there are voters on the coast.

I’m not saying that everything is hunky-dory under the current regulatory system. It isn’t. But, given the political clout of insurance companies in this state, and the fact that Texas does not have a strong two-party system at this moment, the most likely result of electing the insurance commissioner is that sooner or later the commissioner will be a captive of the industry.

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